“Adam!” Frederica shouted. “Wait up!”
“Sure.” Adam Shoemaker pulled his stocking cap farther down over his cold, red ears and waited for his friend to reach him.
“Where ya goin’?” she asked. “I thought you live the other way.”
“I was just out for a walk,” he lied.
“Out for a walk on an evening like this?” she gasped. “It’s been snowing all day.”
The sleet mixed with snow created a dangerous glaze, like Hubbard’s Lake on an ice hockey Saturday when everyone would collapse if they didn’t have a trusty hockey stick for an upended crutch to lean on.
“I nearly landed on my backside a minute ago.” Fritzy added.
“You’d better go in, Fritzy. It doesn’t look like the snow’s gonna let up.” Adam turned and started to punch fresh holes in the crusty snow with each step. “Why are you still out?”
“I walked over to my grandparents’ house an hour ago. We made a fruitcake. Grandma will take it out of the oven in an hour. We weren’t paying any attention to the weather. Wow, it’s gotten bad.”
“Fruitcake? I thought nobody liked fruitcake.” He smiled a little. His mother’s fruitcake
was wonderful, but it wasn’t popular to say that you like Christmas cake with dried fruit and nuts.
“Well, I like it.” She snapped back and skipped a little to stay up with Adam’s long stride. Then, with a slip and a slide, her view turned upside down. Like a duck on an icy pond, she up-dumped and landed on the padded side of her snow pants.
“Fritzy! Are you okay?” Adam scooped her off the frozen sidewalk with one hand.
“Yes!” she sputtered angrily. “I am fine but my pride is broken!” She brushed herself off frantically, embarrassed. Her usual rapid projection of words doubled their output. “Why don’t these people have their sidewalks cleaned off? Why don’t they think of other people?”
“Are you alright?” A voice called from the front door.
“No!” she shouted back, then squeezed her eyes closed and held her breath after she looked toward the house. “Thanks Mayor. I’m great. Just cold.”
“Anything broken, you let me know,” the mayor waved and closed the door.
“Even after that fall, you had enough spit fire left in you to tangle with the mayor?” Adam teased.
“Alright, Adam Shoemaker.” She jerked off one of her gloves and gave Adam a smack on the cheek.
“I accept the challenge, Mademoiselle. I have demeaned your abilities. Dueling pistols at thirty paces.”
“Good,” she lifted her chin. “See that you’re there on time.” Fritzy took a few steps and grabbed her hip. “Oh!”
“Are you hurt anywhere, except, where you cracked the ice back there?” Adam grinned.
“No,” she stated flatly as she stomped ahead.
Adam watched the snow blow sideways in the glow of the street lamp and began to worry. “I’d better get you home, then I can get in out of this blizzard too.”
“You don’t have to take me home,” she protested. “I’m a girl, not an infant.” Fritzy lowered her head and brushed ice clusters from the blond curls that stuck out from her parka hood.
“Fritzy, we’ve gone to school together since Kindergarten. I’ve known you can take care of yourself since Mr. Grouch, the bus driver, waved his fist at you for crossing the street in front of the school bus. You were about twelve, but you yelled, ‘I have to get to the other side of the street, don’t I. Hold your horses!’ Then you raised your hand and waved politely like you were so innocent.”
“You remember that?”
“It was memorable, Fritzy. Grouch has been known to jump out of the bus and stick that big clinched fist of his in the air at anyone who didn’t drive as he thought they should. You were gutsy.”
“We’re here, Adam.” Fritzy nodded at the white frame house. “This is where I live.”
“Let me help you up those icy steps,” Adam offered.
“You mean my dad didn’t shovel ours either?” she grumbled.
“It looks like they were cleared and a new layer of snow and sleet have piled up again.”
“Well, okay. Thanks for the offer of a big strong hand, but I’m perfectly able to walk by myself.”
“Yeah, you’ve already demonstrated that,” he teased.
Fritzy grabbed the step railing and slowly eased herself up the slick steps. Five treads up
and then the porch. Mr. Breman stepped out of the house, maintained a grip on the side of the
door jamb and reached out for his daughter.
“Thanks Adam,” Fritzy called back as she hurried into the warmth of the brightly lit home.
“Thank you,” Mr. Breman added as he closed the door.
Adam trudged on. The snow that had changed to sleet continued to pepper his face. It bit at his skin and stung.
He would be inside soon, but not through the front door of the Church on Cranberry Street. He wasn’t a member. He was an intruder, a common squatter. Adam was a homeless fifteen-year-old who sought refuge at night in the drafty, unheated belfry of the church. Alone and cold, he waited out the night.
Of course he had no key, so he slid around the corner to the back of the stone building. The furnace room window was still ajar as he had left it and Adam easily slipped into the hot space. Before he opened the door to the hall, he cracked it a bit and listened. There was someone else in the church. He was not alone.
Wizard of the Belfry, make him go away! Adam commanded, as if he were the one with magic, not the wizard. The furnace room was getting hot!
Was the wizard a fantasy? Maybe—but the world of reality was too lonely for Adam to care. So, he listened.
“In time,” the wizard promised. “Everything in time.” And—that’s what Adam needed to hear.
Adam impatiently watched the sexton, Alfred Gunderman, from the safety of the shadows just inside the furnace room. Mustn’t be found. I can’t rebuild the family’s reputation from inside an orphanage. What would Fritzy think of me then? There aren’t any foundling home kids in Frederica’s family. There will be none in mine either. I won’t allow it.
Farther down the back hall, shadows that belched a heavy, foul air began to move toward the boy. The old man didn’t notice them, but Adam did. They had piercing black eyes as hollow as the hole in his heart. Granny O’Hara said not to look at the shadow people as they pass. Now, they were in the church. In the belfry, the shadows crept into the corners and hung from the rafters like large black bats.
“Let us deal with the old one,” the shadow people hissed. “We’ll trip him on the stairs.
He’ll never come back. Hisssssss.”
A loud, groaning noise was heard above the building and rattled through Adam’s backbone. The branches of the oak tree out back scraped on the slate roof like the rattling of ghostly chains Adam had heard in a dime movie. He shook off a sickening shudder.
Make him go, Adam demanded again. But, he didn’t think the wizard heard him. He didn’t feel the warmth inside himself or sense the heavy presence that usually came upon him before the wizard spoke.
Most nights, he would have been nearly frozen in the belfry by now. Tonight, I get to boil. I’m nearly cooked.
Adam’s heart pounded. Beads of perspiration dripped in his eyes. It made him mad.
If I stand here any longer, my skin will singe. Just add a little hickory smoke and I’ll be done.
“Too cold to hurry outside,” the old man muttered to himself.
You’ll be fine, Mister, Adam mocked silently. You have a home to go to. Fritzy has a home and a father to help her stay on her feet when the icy weather comes. I have nothing.
The war was over but Pops hadn’t come home and Moms was in the hospital. Adam’s only companion in the cold, musty belfry was the wizard. If he didn’t have the wizard, he would have no one. Real or imaginary, Adam wanted the wizard to stay. One day, he would command the wizard to help him escape from the belfry and, if the wizard wouldn’t, Adam would look at the shadows.
If he were in the glen, he could ask Mr. O’Shaughnessy for help, but the belfry was far from Granny’s place and the funny little man in green. O’Shaughnessy would not drive away the
man that kept Adam from his bed anyway. The wee one would only play tricks on the old guy,
like a cat that plays with a mouse.
Maybe none of it was real, including the wizard. But, Adam chose to believe in fantasy rather than face the real world. Suddenly, through his thick black leather clodhopper shoes, he felt his foot stab with pain and tingle, then went completely numb.
That’s just great! What else can happen? Adam shifted to the other foot and nearly lost his balance. If he toppled over, the noise would betray him.
Through the far window, he saw sleet assault the glass and force its way through the tiny space between the glass and the frame. That image didn’t cool him, however. He was still nearly scorched. Suddenly―
“What was that?” Adam watched Alfred pause and listen as he peered from the darkness.
He hears me. He knows I’m here, Adam winced. I must not be found. He thought about his stash of comic books. Why can’t I have super human powers? I could be invisible.
The heat from the furnace steamed around the door casing. I can’t stand this anymore. I have to move! The tall, lanky teen eyed the exit sign on the other side of the building.
“Wizard of the Belfry, make me invisible,” he whispered into the darkness all around him. Adam felt warm again, not furnace room warm, but as if someone stood so near he could feel the closeness of them. A presence of power filled the boy, all the way from his heart to his shoe laces.
I am invisible!
The boy slipped from his hiding place and made a silent dash toward the outside door. He cringed. His high-top, steel-plated clodhopper shoes might tap on the painted concrete floor. He heard nothing. The wizard had created the silence he had commanded.
Mr. G. turned with a start. “Who’s there?” he shouted into the dark area of the room.
As the boy darted past the closed windows, the street light revealed his slim figure, his levis and short jacket.
Adam said nothing and silently burst across the room with more speed than he knew he could muster. I can’t get caught. If they catch me, it’s all over. He could see the outline of the outside door ahead and gave one last kick.
“Where did that kid go?” Alfred Gunderman mumbled.
The outer door jerked open and Adam sailed out into the frosty night air. He could hear the man’s step quicken behind him.
“I want to see this scalawag.” The old man huffed and puffed as he hurried to the door before the latch set and he jerked it open again.
By the time Adam heard the outside door fly open, he had managed to clear all but his left clodhopper shoes as he slipped in the snow and sludge and rounded the corner.
“I bet those steel-plated shoes are soaked now. Your leather soles might be protected but the metal could rust,” Alfred shouted after him.
Adam stopped in the darkness under a tree, looked around the trunk and back at the
church. The old man was shaking his head.
“Sorry. Bless him, God,” Adam heard the old man say. “Keep him warm on this awful night. I don’t want to wish ill will on any of your children. The kid looks terrible thin.”
The blizzard howled through the trees and whipped up a frigid froth down the empty side streets. First hot then cold, the boy shivered violently in the raging wind.
Adam ran around the side of the building and re-entered the church through the kitchen window over the sink. He scooted down onto the large drain board and was glad to find it was
man that kept Adam from his bed anyway. The wee one would only play tricks on the old guy,
completely dry. He swung his feet around and slithered down from the counter carefully until his
feet were planted firmly on the concrete floor. He watched and listened at the door.
Pastor Silverman’s tabby cat, Gertrude, came out of nowhere and skittered between Alfred’s legs. She nearly knocked him down before she darted across the room.
“Gertrude, you huntin’ church mice?” Alfred followed the cat across the floor and into the corner near the main entrance. “How many mice we got in here?” The sexton even looked near the ladder that led to Adam’s secret belfry-lair.
The blustering wind rattled the channeling in the stained glass windows. “It’s really bad out there Alfred. You’d better go home,” Pastor Silverman warned as he came into the church and stomped his feet on the rubber mat. “This will go down in history as the blizzard of 1945. The snow has been blowing sideways since the sun’s gone down.”
Adam rolled his eyes. He could smell bacon on the pastor’s clothing. His hungry stomach began to devour his innards. He stepped deeper into the shadows. Wizard, put your cloak over me and hide me from the smell of food.
“So it will be,” Adam heard inside his head.
Gertrude tiptoed over to Pastor Silverman and draped herself through the pastor’s legs. “Gertrude, what are you doing in here?”
“She thinks she smells a mouse.” Alfred said.
Silverman picked her up and cradled the cat in his arms. “Alfred, I was thinking all evening about another blizzard when I was a kid. Dad was the minister here then. The night was almost as bad as this one. Dad saw that your car was here and sent me over to check on you. That night you helped God save my soul,” Pastor reminded him.
Helped God save his soul? Adam heard what the pastor said and wondered how that was
possible. God is probably dead anyway. He might have gone down in one of those fighter planes, like in the news reels at the movies. Or, an ace pilot pierced the sky and God fell out. At least, any god I believed in would have slipped through a crack in Heaven.
Adam’s muscles tightened and clinched. If there was a god, I wouldn’t even be here. He’d give me somewhere else to go. A kid with no place to live gets placed in a children’s home. Then, what would Moms do if I couldn’t visit her in the hospital?
He heard the lights snap off and the two men go out, so he stepped into the room and watched through the window on the other side of the fellowship hall. The snow continued to come down like giant clumps of white, frozen feathers. He could see the icy glitter on the sidewalk and all it touched. It sent a shiver up Adam’s back. He slipped across the floor and started up the ladder to the belfry and wondered if the wizard had really made him invisible?
As he hurried up the ladder, rung by rung, an old doubt took over. Maybe the wizard isn’t real after all.